Thursday, 14 January 2016

Inspirational Patients - Al Churcher

My husband and I were innocently promenading down Ecclesall Road one day, minding our own business, when we were distracted by shouting from the terrace at Nonnas. Al Churcher was celebrating his 70th birthday. And as usual with Al, he was doing it in some style - having just come from performing a gig in his own honour the champagne was flowing. Our reporter made her excuses and left. Since then Al has become the European Silver Medalist at Triathlon in the 70 year old age category. In the last few months he’s also recorded the age-group record at all six Sheffield Park runs, including a time of 22.18 at Sheffield Hallam Park Run.

I first met Al when he was recovering from a knee injury which had stopped him running for four months. He then injured his other knee requiring arthroscopic surgery. Overall he was out for a year.

"When I first saw Kim I was, to say the least, pretty depressed. For the first time ever I'd injured my "good" knee - the left one. The right has an unreconstructed anterior cruciate ligament and there is no cartilage on the inside of the knee so I'm used to that giving me a bit of trouble. The left knee pain had started after one hard 5km run. Two other professionals had been unable to diagnose the source of the problem. Not knowing what the problem was made it even worse and I was struggling to face up to a future that would not include triathlon..

"... realising this might be my last chance I was determined not to blow it again."

"It took only a few minutes for Kim to be fairly sure that I'd torn the cartilage - a referral to a specialist soon confirmed this. Following the arthroscopy I put myself completely in Kim's hands - realising this might be my last chance I was determined not to blow it again. Runners & triathletes are their own worse enemies and I'm a perfect example. We love what we do, we're addicted to it and as a result we over-train, ignore warning signals and when we do get injured we think we can immediately bounce back to our pre-injury level."

Some people are motivated by goals and it is said that we must set our goals beyond what we really want to achieve. Al’s goal was to win a medal at the European Championships, after a year of no running at all, at the age of 70.

As a physiotherapist who deals with many runners one can understand how challenging that goal really was. It takes self-belief, patience, objectivity and a willingness to take the setbacks and pick yourself up - most importantly a willingness to keep focusing on that goal.
Add to that the perception of many in the general population, and in the medical profession, of how a seventy year old should be and should behave.


Many runners I know struggle to race 5km: firstly, if you are racing then it's painful, and pain isn’t pleasant. Secondly, your speed when racing such a short distance places more load on your body and, unless you have trained for it, it is easy to get injured. Particularly as you get older ...

Al started just running a few minutes at a time. He built up slowly over the year in a very methodical and disciplined way. The results speak for themselves and I find his achievements inspirational.
"I've finally learnt a little patience and to listen to my body"
"One of Kim's great strengths is her positive attitude and the way she transmits her belief that if you do the right things it will come right again. She is also pretty strict with me. This time I stuck religiously to her recovery plan and guess what - it worked - so much so that I've started Duathlon again and won my class at Carsington in October. That was TWO hard 5km runs separated by a 30km bike. Thanks to Kim I've finally learnt a little patience and to listen to my body - well most of the time - and now I'm targeting this year's world Duathlon champs in Spain, hoping to finally land that elusive Gold medal."

I should have mentioned - that gig he played - was one of his first ever after a life long passion for music and guitars. He is now a regular on stage at the Yellow Arch.




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